How Much Bang Do We Get For Our Infrastructure Buck?

| Thu Jun. 13, 2013 9:51 PM EDT

Responding to a CAP report about how to grow the economy, Josh Barro pushes back on the contention that we have a serious infrastructure problem. Setting that aside for the moment, his follow-up comment is worth addressing:

The real U.S. infrastructure gap is a cost gap: Big public construction projects cost way more here than they do in other countries. Why would we make a major new financial commitment to infrastructure before fixing the problem that we pay way too much for what we do build?

Is this true? I don't doubt that it costs more to build public infrastructure in America than it does in, say, China or Mexico. But is it more expensive than in Spain or Germany or Denmark? If so, why?

As I said, this is worth addressing. Unfortunately, I can't find anything very authoritative on this subject. Does anybody know of anything? Even given the obvious problems of construction in an already-built environment, the cost of building infrastructure in America, as well as the time it takes to complete anything, has always struck me as puzzling. If this problem really is worse here than it is even in other densely built, advanced economies, I'd sure like to know why.

UPDATE: Alon Levy has some raw numbers for rail projects here and subway projects here. His figures suggest that average U.S. costs per mile are considerably higher than in Europe. Stephen Smith takes a crack at explaining why here. (If it sounds familiar, it's because I linked to Smith's column last year.)